BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Youngstown State baseball coach Steve Gillispie put a plan together when he became coach of the Penguins less than two years ago.
His goal was to gradually turn the YSU baseball program into a national contender.
The "gradual" part apparently wasn't real important.
Youngstown State senior Patrick O'Brien pitched 6 1/3 strong innings, and the Penguins beat Indiana State 5-2 for the program's first victory in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday afternoon in the Bloomington Regional.
"I think that it happened this quickly, we're probably ahead of the time frame," Gillispie said. "I felt we could turn things around in a short period of time. Now, this obviously kind of redefines turning things around. We were hoping to have a better regular season."
The Penguins finished the regular season 12-36, but they went on an unprecedented run in the Horizon League tournament, winning four straight games, including the championship. The title earned them an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and after a loss to Indiana on Friday, they bounced back against the Sycamores (35-18).
YSU (17-37) advances to play at 1 p.m. today against Stanford, which lost to Indiana on Saturday night. The Penguins got there thanks to O'Brien.
He allowed one run in the first inning, and he escaped a jam in the fourth to preserve a 3-2 lead. The Penguins scored two runs in the bottom of the fourth to go up 5-2, and O'Brien, Josh North and Alex Frey maintained that lead the rest of the contest.
Josh White went 2-for-4 and was one of five Penguins with an RBI. Phil Lipari, the MVP of the Horizon League Tournament, singled, walked and scored twice. Three players had a pair of hits to lead Indiana State, which earned an at-large berth into the field of 64 out of the Missouri Valley Conference.
It was a landmark win, and Gillispie and the Penguins said they're not done.
"I think it's not going to be much different than what we have done going back to the conference tournament, and that's to focus," Gillispie said. "So we just have to come back ready to play and try to win pitch by pitch, at-bat by at-bat, inning-by-inning and then add it up at the end of nine and see where we are."
Indiana State took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, but O'Brien worked around a pair of two-out singles in the top of the second, and the Penguins offense started to click in the bottom half of the inning. White led off with a single to right, and Kevin Hix reached on a fielder's choice and an error on a double-play attempt. Hix was thrown out at the plate on Shane Willoughby's single, but Lorenzo Arcuri followed with a single to right that scored Willoughby with the tying run.
The Penguins then took a 3-1 lead they would not relinquish with two runs in the third inning. Lipari walked, and Larivee singled to right. Lipari then came in on Brent Gillespie's sacrifice fly, and Larivee put YSU up, 3-1, four batters later when Willoughby was hit by a pitch with two outs and the bases loaded.
Indiana State got a run back in the top of the fourth to make the score 3-2. The Sycamores had runners at the corners with one out, but O'Brien escaped with the lead intact by retiring the next two hitters out on a safety squeeze and a ground out to Willoughby at shortstop.
"I was just locked in," O'Brien said. "Really, I wasn't too familiar with this team. So I didn't know who I was facing; if it was the 1-hitter or the 4-hitter or where they were in their lineup at all. So I was locked in and I was throwing strikes."
The Penguins capitalized on O'Brien's big outs and answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning. Kurt Laver led off with a walk, and he went to third on Lipari's single to right. Larivee plated Laver on a sacrifice fly to deep right, and Lipari scored on White's two-out single up the middle off reliever Kurt Kudrecki to put YSU up 5-2.
All five of YSU's runs were charged to Indiana State ace David Stagg, who had only allowed five runs in two of his first 14 starts of the season coming into the regional matchup. Stagg allowed six hits and walked three batters while striking out five in 3 2/3 innings.
"This is just fantastic for these kids," Gillispie said. "It was a rough, rough regular season in a lot of ways. So I would say this is really probably more than what we had expected to accomplish, especially this year."